Annual Cape library sale offers rare tomes

Friday, September 7, 2001

Each year on a Friday afternoon in September, a line forms at the entrance to the Cape Girardeau Public Library. At 5 p.m., the treasure hunt begins.

Those in line want the first look at thousands of books in the Friends of the Cape Girardeau Public Library Book Sale. Those who aren't already members of the Friends are willing to pay $15 to join and get a chance to search for books during the first hour of the sale.

The sale opens to the general public from 6 to 8 tonight and again from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

No matter the time of day, the aisles are usually well populated.

"It's wonderful to see how many people love books," says Betty Martin, the library's director.

People also love bargains. Awaiting inside the library community room are rows and rows of books, most selling for $1 in hardcover and 25 cents for paperbacks. Prices on one shelf of books deemed "rare" range from $3 to $10. Among them is a gilt-accented book for identifying collectible porcelains and pottery, a 1929 Webster 's Dictionary, a 1906 French-language book titled "Colomba," a 1933 book about seamanship and a 1947 edition of "Pinocchio" in good condition.

There also are books on nuclear physics, Hardy Boys mysteries, and a cookbook that contains handwritten notes and recipes dating from the 1930s.

Various reasons

The reasons people might want a book are as varied as the books. Clarence Schade, an avid library user who has worked as a volunteer at the book sale for many years, read dictionaries and encyclopedias during World War II because he was a cryptographer and had to know many words.

"I don't read as much as I used to," he says, grinning.

Proceeds go to the library programs the Friends sponsor such as the summer reading club.

In 1995, the book sale netted $3,294. The numbers have declined since then. The total take last year was $2,246.

The sale is organized and staffed by volunteers from the Friends, by members of the library board and by members of the Zonta Club.

Books are donated to the Cape Girardeau Public Library at 711 N. Clark St. almost every day. Some are good books the library puts into circulation. Some are books too arcane for general circulation or books the library already has.

The library won't accept moldy books, says Paula Gresham-Bequette, who is in charge of the library's adult services. "Mold is like a disease: It will spread to other books."

The sale is augmented with books the library weeds from its shelves: books that haven't been checked out in three years, contain outdated information or have been replaced because they are too worn to circulate.

Studies have shown that library circulations improve after weeding because the remaining books are presented better and the collection looks newer, Martin said.

From "Psychiatrists: The Men Behind Hitler," to "Entering the Circle: Ancient Secrets of Siberian Wisdom Discovered by a Russian Psychiatrist," the books in the sale include wide interests and approaches. The adult fiction and paperback categories contain the largest number of books.

There's a biography of Jess Stacy, the former Cape Girardeau resident who went on to jazz acclaim as a pianist for Benny Goodman and in other groups.

Also available are an old set of World Book Encyclopedias and other textbooks.

Donations down

Donations of books haven't been as plentiful this year as in the past, and no one knows why. Martin said books still can be donated today up until the sale starts.

The sale also will include some furniture -- an old paperback rack and wooden bin -- and some of the library's collection of magazines on microfilm. The microfilm is becoming dispensable now because the library has access to the same data online.

Phyllis Jackson, the library's longtime administrative assistant, recalls when the library erected tents outside for the sale. Now the sale is conducted inside the library's remodeled Hirsch Community Room and stretches into the lobby.

No matter how many books are sold, some at the sale don't find owners. It was different one year. A Southeast graduate student offered $20 for the books remaining after the sale. "We had 30 or 40 boxes," Martin recalled.

"He filled his apartment with them. He didn't care what was in the boxes."

335-6611, extension 182

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